Mr. Hulot’s Holiday/ Not Rated/ 83 mins.
Time to turn off the brains, summer vacation is here. Let us gorge on hot dogs and fry by the pool. We deserve a rest, and Hollywood obliges with three months of mindless action and sophomoric hijinks. Let us be thankful for this, if it wasn’t for summer movies we would never know the answer to the question, “How buff could Jake Gyllenhaal become if he spent endless hours in the gym?” In honor of the season, I showed my four and seven year olds a movie that epitomizes summer, “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday”. Did I mention that it is black and white, in French, and nearly silent. In other words, it can’t miss.
“Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” is a light look at how the French vacationed in the 1950s. There is no real plot to discuss. The movie consists of a number of vignettes, capturing the rhythm of a weeklong vacation at the beach. The characters swim, have lunch, sunbathe, eat lunch again, play tennis, picnic, go swimming once more, eat dinner, and witness fireworks. Not dissimilar to the way most people could sum up their own family vacation.
This is the first film featuring the character of Mr. Hulot. Created by Jacques Tati, Mr. Hulot is as physically recognizable as Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Usually wearing an oversized hat and sporting a pipe, Hulot is amiable and polite, always seeming to apologize for what he has done or what he is about to do. Of course, this is when he is not bounding away from the scene, trying to escape blame. He bumbled his way through four films from the 1950s to the early 1970s, each with a message about society at the time.
While a comedy, the film is not truly funny. You do not laugh uproariously at the jokes, rather you smile at their cleverness. Tati was known for his meticulous planning of even the simplest of situations. The film could be used to help teach older children about the art of a good gag. The set ups and pay offs are well defined and easy to explain.
However, let’s tackle the lingering question, “How could any kid possibly enjoy an unfunny French comedy?” I asked the kids, and in true four and seven year old fashion they gave me no answer. I do know they laughed out loud twice. The first time when a dog would not move out of the road as Mr. Hulot attempted to drive past. The second was when beachgoers mistook Mr. Hulot for a shark.
Neither of those scenes sounds any more compelling than your average cartoon. And that is why kids may gravitate towards Mr. Hulot. He is a cartoon character in the same way Pee-wee Herman is one. Mr. Hulot is awkward enough to create problems, but good hearted enough that you want to be around him. It is true that he causes minor headaches for the characters in the film, but they continue to include him in every group activity.
The kids also connect to the movie’s light air. The movie may remind adults of their own summer memories, but it reminds kids of most days of their lives. Kids’ interests in life are not serious, they revolve around play. Mr. Hulot spends most of his time playing. The most serious thing Mr. Hulot does is eat lunch. The most serious thing any character does is take a phone call, and that character is played for a laugh as every activity he attempts is interrupted by an incredibly important call. He probably reminds many kids of their Dads.
At the end of the film an English woman asks Mr. Hulot if he will return the following year. Mr. Hulot politely nods yes. This was our family’s second visit with Mr. Hulot. Last year my son proclaimed it was better than “G-Force”, prompting one internet film guru to respond, “Let’s hope he is as open minded at eight.” I’m sure my son was humoring me last year, but this year both he and his four year old sister were actively engaged. Next year, my son will be eight. I asked if we should watch it again at that time. He politely nodded yes.
What’s your favorite summer movie?
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